Scene 9

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Day exterior. Carnival is just starting to get going. Just another average day. Seems like a rather sparsely populated morning. The rides squeak and groan as if they are having difficulty waking up after a short night of slumber. The gears of each amusement grind out their painful rhythms. Caught in their repetitive, cyclic prison. The giant cogs controlling the mighty Gravitron appear especially ominous. Perhaps they are angry by the perpetual neglect and abuse. Maybe just plain weary of the endless ordeal and entertaining mindless crowds.

Butch cracks the trailer door open, squints at the piercing light of the day, rubbing his eyes. He is hung over from the previous nights frolic and long travel. These weekends are killers. Work all day. Tear down all night. Travel to the next town. Set up everything… Then maybe get some sleep. It sure seemed easier when he was younger. Maybe it’s just the drinking. Maybe he should start working out again. Then again, maybe a younger woman would restore his vigor. In the old days the would only have to be on the road 40 weeks a year versus 46 now. Back then we played state fairs and made money hand over fist…”fucking crooked fair boards, inflation and the God damned bureaucrats,” he grumbles to himself as he surveys the sparse morning midway traffic.

The guy Lobo beat up painfully wakes up. He is visibly hurting from the blows inflicted during his anestisized furry. He groans out loud. It had been a long night tearing down… the party, drugs… What happened? He was straining to remember through the morning fog.  Then, he recollects the shadows of events with Lobo and his girlfriend. “Goddamned prick.” He rubs at the stabbing pain in his jaw with his right hand. Surveys his body as if to check for other damage. With a grunt slowly rises to meet his prescribed duties. As his consciousness remembrance began to dawn, he began to plot his rightful vengeance.

Back on the midway, the crew that had gotten a few hours sleep were out manning the rides while those that had worked through the night, setting up were catching a cat nap. Speed, amphetamines like “white crosses” did a wonderful job bridging the extended gaps between sleep. The weekends were especially challenging. Carnival life was exciting but especially grueling.

The B&J Carnival season consisted of 46 weeks on the road. 40 cities. 34 one week (5 day) gigs and 6 extended, two week (9-10 day) play dates. The routine was well established, if strenuous. The one week schedule ran from Tuesday through Saturday night. Usually Saturday was the best attended and most lucrative evening and therefore was the hottest – most high energy time for everyone.

The two week events spanned two weekends occurred at county and regional fairs. They ran from Thursday(or Friday) through the following Saturday. The longer spans were always held at large county fair grounds. They also included celebrity performances -usually musical as well as an virtual cafeteria of agricultural events… “4H”, Tractor pulls, rodeo and the like.

The additional day or two in between called for intense (and deserved partying and unrestrained debauchery. Depending upon Butchs’ mood and relative cash flow, He would schedule a couple of wild galas. These were used as reward and lubricant for the worn human gears in the Carnival machinery.

Early Sunday morning, immediately following the close of Saturdays’ festivities, (after working a long, long day) the crew would tear down and pack up the entire array. Most of the time, as the early morning hours eroded the stamina of the workers, everyone would pile in and drive to the next location pausing for a hearty breakfast on the road. This was a favored time for “uppers”, usually beer, cheap wine or whiskey mixed with speed… “hi-balls”. This would mellow them out and fortify them for the 4 to 8 hour drive to the next town.

Then, without the aid of sleep, except for those non-drivers and non-druggers who could grab a couple of hours in route, they would erect the entire show on Monday afternoon. Finally, somewhere between 11:00 to mid-night everyone would literally CRASH! for a much needed rest before opening morning.  Since show time was usually around 11, everyone had to be up and at their station by 9 making final preparation. Staff and roll call would meet precisely at 8:00. Anyone who missed it would be in deep shit and forego their weeks mail and more importantly their check. No exceptions, no excuses.

The basic route for B&J was fairly established. Beginning in San Antonio in January they would travel the southern (warm) route to California. Then up the jogging up the coast to British Columbia. Across the long, circuitous stretch along route #1 in southern Canada into the heart of Ontario. From there they reenter the U.S. to begin the final leg toward home, via their final play dates from Michigan throughout the mid-west and south. Hop-scotching back and forth with a rather erratic itinerary until they returned for much needed hyeatus and repair back in San Antonio.

Every year they would try to dump several of the less advantageous play dates in favor of the better ones. However, for the last several years, the process had worked in reverse. In it’s prime, B & J Carnivals they played state fairs and better; i.e. more profitable and advantageous locations. Butchs’ mismanagement had deteriorated relations and therefore preferable niches in the itinerary. Bigger, better funded (and managed) Carnivals slowly usurped their hold. In addition, amusement parks like Six Flags and such were also siphoning off a growing populace.

The ritual of final performance, tear down, travel, set-up preparation… show time 1,2,3,4… final performance repeated time and again throughout the years with only the syncopated rhythm of two week gigs and the 6 week pause in San Antonio became like an inherent musical score in the soul. For those brought up in the business or with it for many years it became an essential part of nature and character. Carnival folks constantly talk about it “being in the blood”.

Like the nightly prowling of the Werewolf. The cyclic animal driven hunger to stalk, gorge and retreat. It becomes an intuitive, instinctual dance that fails to yield to reason or bidding. Intense, heart breaking, soul draining labor punctuated by frolic and revelry. “It just gets in your blood.” Like the vampire that selects, seduces it’s victims… then pricks, infects them turning them into creatures of the night… some say that the Carnival is a whore and predator that feeds on and converts it’s prey. Other’s say it’s a democratic safe haven where anyone can loose their past and start anew.

On the wild centrifugal bowl named the Gravitron, spinning at up to 70 mph, the operator apathetically clicks the door shut. It’s 14 participants clamped to the walls by padded steel braces that hold the arms. The Gravitron could hold up to 24 people… three strapped to each of it’s eight panels. The entire structure is held tentatively held together by several “R” pins and bolts. As an added safety measure, the ride is circled by “the cable of life” which secures it further, in case of accident. During the last several weeks however, the cable, having been snagged and kinked during tear down and becoming unusable, was omitted from the inventory. It would have taken several weeks and over $3,000 to obtain a new one. Butch insisted that the ride, being one of the more popular, be operated even though technically it was a major breach in the safety rules and indeed common sense. After all it was only a redundant safety system… like seat belts and such.

Slowly the Gravitron began to rotate… gradually gaining speed. The apparent gravity inside the revolving bowl drastically increased forcing the patrons against the walls and up the sides. The excited screams of the participants, mostly between the ages of 6 and 14 rose as the ride gathered speed. The central mechanism that is responsible for driving the mechanism is composed of an electric motor, drive train and an intermeshed system of gears.  In particular the main gear which was responsible for transferring the torque from the motor to the mechanism was terribly stripped. It was the one indicated by Henry and Lobo as dangerous.

Unfortunately on this occasion, Peter -still hungover from the previous nights’ revelries -was none too cognizant of the fact that he had incorrectly loaded the ride. Though there were pallets for 16, on this occasion there were only 10 riders. Peter had indiscriminately allowed them to congregate exclusively to one side. It was a cardinal rule that the Gravitron had to be “balanced” to operate properly.

Like loading a washing machine. You would not squeeze all the clothes to one side or it would throw the agitator off balance and cause the ‘thump, thump’ of the tub to knock against the side walls. In fact, if the weight of the articles inside were sufficient like heavy, wet towels… the rinse cycle could completely ruin the spinning mechanism (before the installation of automatic safety shut-off systems).

Anyway, as the Gravitron spun with greater force it began to develop a wobble, rattle, then violent shake all within a matter of seconds. Peter was preoccupied in reminiscing during a smoke. He was positioned inside the ride at it’s epicenter. In fact he was traveling at over 180 miles an hour. Nevertheless, because he was at the center of the storm, he didn’t feel the incongruity as fast as the crew. He mistook their anxious faces and screams as par for the course. It was only as the ride began to lurch back and forth rapidly that it struck Peter, like a slap, that there was serious trouble. By then it was too late. The off balance load which caused the violent shake multiplied the strain on the already worn gears.  With a earth rattling snap, the worn teeth of the gears were ripped off. The caused the “bowl” to immediately drop over 18” on it’s axis… going over 70 mph on the outside walls and over 180 mph at the epicenter.

The relatively fragile “R” pins were snapped like bobby pins in a huge wire cutter. The eight panels of the Gravitron, like sliced wedges of an orange were thrown outward like contorted toys tossed off a playground merry-go-round… (revolving at 70mph) The weight of the wedges did well in that they were not thrown far and mostly spun out flat. However, the two panels that were riderless, flew outwards with a vengeance. One of the pieces going end-over-end and crashing into an adjacent ride.

It was also fortunate that there were few people. It was opening day, early. On a crowded Saturday night there would have been 20 times more people in striking range of the flying panels. Even so, as the wedges loaded with kids and teens were tossed into the screaming crowds, several people were trapped underneath the descending panels. The rod iron stairway leading up to the ride was immediately torn to shreds. There were 8 or 9 people lingering when the ride exploded. They were the ones that generally received the worst of the terror.

Even though the 14 riders were secured by shoulder harnesses, the abrupt jarring and tremendous “G” force exerted by the thrown panels and crash injured several of the children terribly. Four were knocked completely unconscious. Two were thrown from the harnesses like rag dolls. The accident resounded in a huge thunder clap followed by the loud clatter of crashing, contorted metal and the screams and cries of the victims.

Immediately, the Carnies recognized something had gone horrible wrong. They rushed as one toward the sound, then sight of the carnage. Butch, who was arguing with Agnes at the time, was instantly terror stricken by the first terrible snap. He bolted through the door of the trailer mid-sentence. Agnes, followed a split second later, intuitively grabbing the first aid kit from the kitchen closet as she went.

At the scene of the disaster, chaos and terror reign. Bodies, mostly of children, are strewn out amidst chunks of heavy metal panels and twisted fencing. Parents of several of the smaller children are trying to render frantic assistance to their offspring. It is hard to hear amid the wailing, screaming and yelling. Three people are obviously dead. Peter is gruesomely mangled at the core of the ride like some hideous display. The force of the accident had thrown him forward and down at over 180 mph, instantly snapping his neck. He lay sprawled across the drivers seat. Another corpse, barely recognizable as a human being, more like a bulk of bloody mashed flesh, lay tangled in the fencing and stairs. The third mortally wounded victim, a small black girl between 6 and 8 years of age, remain trapped under one of the Gravitrons’ heavy panels.

Beyond the immediately visible fatalities, there were numerous injured bodies with their attendants strewn throughout a radius of 40 feet from the amusement. Many were bleeding or crying or in shock or unconscious or some combination thereof. Many people congregate to numbly gawk and quietly mumble, as if they were taking in another of the features of the House of Horrors. Many are trying to help but are confused and afraid and ill-equipped to know what to do when tragedy strikes.

In the wake of the bloody quandary, Butch arrives and immediately takes command. Carnies intuitively crowd around him awaiting their orders. He barks urgent orders to his assembled disciples as he quickly moves through the carnage surveying the situation. “You, go call the ambulances, tell them to bring a bunch! You three go to the storage trailer and get every blanket you can find. Agnes arrives with the first aid kit, insufficient to handle the magnitude of the injuries. Butch yells at a cluster of his group to aid her. She further orders two of them to “run, get additional first aid supplies from the trailer…” as they go, “anything you can find, and hurry. Lindsay, (frantically directing Lindsay) you go with them.” He looks on the scene in horror and amazement. “Goooo!” Butch continues to command Carnies and volunteers alike. “You, call the police.” You, call the fire department.” When the respondent looks puzzled, he adds, “They’ll beat the ambulances or police here by ten minutes… now go!” He actually appears highly effective and competent in the crisis.

Butch spies one of the onlookers, out of the corner of his eye, taking photos of the events and suffering. Gives guy bad look. He grabs one of the carnies by the arm and orders him to tell Buster to take care of the guy, motioning over to the photographer. As he goes, he includes… “No film, got it?” The guy nods and takes off to get Buster.

The guy whispers to Buster, who with several of his enforcers, immediately and coarsely descend upon the voyeur in his mischief. They drag him off, tearing the camera from his hands and smashing it against the steel of the heavy steel of a nearby truck bed. Lindsay returns and looks on. The Carnival kids cluster together, shoved to the background be the frenzy of the attendant adults. Sweetie is crying deeply. Jackie sadly holds her as they await emergency relief.  People are still running here and there in a constant state of panic although to a lesser degree now that Butch has arrived to command relative order and help is on the way.

Lobo puts a make shift pad on kids shoulder to stop the bleeding. He looks up to scan the situation, to see if he would be needed more urgently elsewhere. He notices the photographer hustled out and the cluster of Carny children assembled to the side. He is impressed by Butch, how well he is taking care of things.

Each victim has several others trying to do what they can. The Fire department is the first to arrive signaling it’s proximity by the blaring sirens. The sea of onlookers part as 5 or 6 vehicles pour through. About 20 fire officials quickly go to work bringing aid to the victims. The chief and Butch huddle off to the fringes of the accident and quickly coordinate.

Thereafter, Butchs’ role shifts to ancillary matters while the chief replaces him in attending to the injured.

Butch motions to his workers to gather. He lays out their respective duties and they immediately disperse to fulfill his orders. The entry gate is closed to any but emergency vehicles… no press allowed. The Carnies as one gently but forcefully disperse the crowd… ushering them out of the midway. Everyone but the injured, family members or emergency attendants are evicted. The ambulences are next to arrive, followed several minutes later by a growing mass of police cars, rescue personnel and dozens of unidentified “officials”.

Most people disperse and then leave. There is an eerie silence as people are herded out in a state of general shock. Butch and several officals including two big wigs from the fair board return to his trailer.

After an speedy briefing, Buster takes charge. “Get back to work. Get everything cleaned up.” They return to their tasks like obedient ants. Lindsay, Brian, Jackie and Sweetie are still stunned and linger behind together. Buster interrupts their sad commiseration, “Go on now, there’s nothing more we can do here.  The Show must go on.” He gives them a gentle nudge in the direction of their tent. Jackie retorts, “You idiot Buster. Don’t you care about anything? Are you a fucking robot?” Sweetie looks down at the ground still crying.

Buster is in no mood to have his authority challenged. “I said get going. There’s nothing more to do here. Butch said for everyone to get back to work, now go!” Jackie flips out. She and Buster get into it.  Brian tries to control or calm her down from the side line, gently grasping her arm. “Come on now, be cool…” Jackie shakes off Brians’ hold but nevertheless yields. She glares at Buster who wordlessly walks away.

Lindsay, wanders back in the direction of his trailer. Several carnival workers rope off the Gravitron. The childhood trio return sadly to their tent. Carnival employees slowly go back to work, cautiously grumbling to themselves or each other as they do. Within two hours following the accident the scene is completely cleared. Fire trucks, police cars, official vehicles… everyone is fled. Workers are still struggling to piece together the broken Gravitron. For the most part, people seemed to prefer to wordlessly go about their tasks.

The only remaining center of frenetic energy is coming from Butch and Agnes’ trailer. Two police officers (one detective), the police chief, two members of the fair board and the assistant mayor are assembled. Their respective vehicles huddled in a disorganized patch in front. As twilight descends, light spills out of the trailer as the officials cordially exit. They exchange hand shakes and say their good-byes. Curious Carnies observe the proceedings and wonder what they portend for their future.

The four cars pull away generating a cloud of dust in their wake. Butch watches them leave. A moment later he calls Buster over. Closes the door behind him. “Yea, Boss.” Butch remains three steps above him on the metal landing. Butch leans on the black rod iron railing. “We’ll be opening, just like regular tomorrow. I want you to tell everybody.” Buster is legitimately surprised. He considers it, “Wow! How’d you pull that one off?” Buster says smugly, “The fair board and the city got a lot invested in this. They can’t afford to loose the revenue.” Buster questions, “Won’t people be afraid of…” Butch cuts into his question, “That’s part of their job. They’re going to snuff it out with the press. The local paper is owned by Mitch, the fairboard presidents’ brother-in-law. It’s a real closed community around here.” Buster nods, “O.K. boss, whatever you say.” Butch waxes stern, “By the way, let everyone know to keep their mouth shut… don’t answer any questions, don’t tell no one nothing!” Buster soberly, “Yea, right.” He resolutely dashes off to spread the word.

Butch returns to the trailer. Agnes just stares at him in disbelief as she washes the blood off her arms and in the crevices of her hands. Butch looks out the window as Buster informs the other Carnies about the plans. Lobo just nods his head back and forth in unbelief. He shoots a dirty look at Butch from a distance, who rebounds Lobos’ gaze coldly. He lets the curtain fall across the window. “You have to be crazy.” Agnes interjects. “We should close down for a day or two at least. Give things time to settle. Three people got killed. God knows how many more injured.”

Butch steels himself. He doesn’t argue. He just announces how it’s going to be. Agnes is perplexed by this persona. She tries to figure it out. Rather absently she continues, “We can afford it. We’ve gotten ahead.

Butch, more talking to himself than to her, “Business has to go on. Shit happens. It will work out.” Agnes is appalled by his apparent insensitivity to the accident. “We don’t even know if kids are going to be O.K… Things will be O.K.?” She shakes her hands from the excess water and angrily wipes them off. The conflict between them comes to a silent stand still. Much is not spoken, but it is clear that the quiet is flooded with issues yet unresolved.

Butch reports gravely, “We have more important things to attend to right now.  There’ll be an full scale investigation by the state. Nothing the locals can do about that. They’ll want to see all our maintenance records… that could be a real problem.” Agnes looks disgusted and condescending, “Records are just paper. People are flesh and blood.” Trying again to jar Butch into some exhibition of empathy or feeling. “Paper can be doctored.  Mistakes can be erased or be fixed. Sometimes people just can’t be fixed as easily.”

Butch is lost in deep thought, mutters in hushed tones, “You can’t erase people… hmmm, too bad. That might fix a few things if I could…” Agnes is confused, “What are you thinkin?” Butch gains clarity. “I’m thinkin’ that you got some serious doctorin’ to do on the records. I’m thinkin’ it might be better for us if somebody around here was just kind of erased.”

Agnes is caught by the intrigue, “Like who for instance?”

Butch stares straight at her. For the first time seeming to be fully aware. “Like Henry. He’s was the maintenance engineer… might be kind of convenient if he… well if he disappeared, as in ran away.” Agnes catches up with him, “Like so you would have a scapegoat to pin the blame on.” Butch defensive, “Why not? Better him then us.” Agnes doesn’t respond, just stares at him a little afraid by his coldness. “Everybody knows he’s a drunk. We tried to give him every opportunity…”

Agnes, “Hasn’t he been with your family in this carnival for almost 30 years!?” A tinge of regret crosses Butchs’ brow. “I’ll be sorry to see him go, he was a good friend to my father…but I’m afraid now he can serve the best interests of the family by movin on.”

“How about Lobo. Henry was his friend. What if Lobo says something?” Butch smiles, “Somehow, I don’t believe Lobo is going to talk. I know he’s hiding something. I don’t think he can afford the publicity. Besides, when push comes to shove, who are they going to believe? A drifter, a no account or me, you, Buster, and a dozen or so others who would sware on an oath to whatever I want them to. So what could Lobo do? No one gives a shit about Lobo. They might stick-up for Henry, if he were around that is.” Agnes nods grimly realizing that they just killed a faithful man’s Carnival career and livelihood. Butch puts his arm around her shoulder, “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of him… give him a little something extra as a going away present.” Agnes warms up a bit, smiling slightly for the first time of the day. “God I’ll be glad to see this day come to an end, it’s been a nightmare.” Butch rubs her back and neck. Agnes melts into his hands.

As the tensions of the day begin to fade, she remembers, “By the way, I forgot to mention, the accountant called the day before yesterday. The night, right as we were heading to the party. Anyway, he said the bank called him and said that we failed to make our interest payments for the last three months!? They say we’re in default and need to make full payment immediately, or else. I insisted that that was simply impossible. I told him that I knew you paid it already.”

Butch stops abruptly and goes cold. He walks over to the table and sits down. Grabbing the last half of a lukewarm beer, he upends the bottle.

Agnes grows concerned, “The accountant said that if the bank was not paid in full in the next ten days… Butch, I thought you paid that! You told me… You were going down to the bank…”

Butch looks shit faced. Ignores her question. Agnes bursts, “Butch! Did you hear what I said?  Butch stares down at the table trying to look unconcerned. He mutters, “Something came up…” Agnes yells, “What do you mean, came up? They’re going to call the loan in ten days! They’ll close us down!” Butch shakes his head, “They’re just bluffing! They wouldn’t. They can’t.” Trying hard to convince himself. “You’re just over reacting. It’s just bull shit.” He rises and goes over to the fridge for another beer.

Agnes smells something. “O.K., so you spaced it out, no problem.” Fishing. “Butch, why not just pay them, then… First thing tomorrow, right?  We can’t blow them off.” Butch looks off into the distance that does exist within the confines of a tight trailer. He admits, “Becausewe can’t. That’s why.” Agnes curious and intent, “What do you mean can’t? The payment was only $6,500. Three months is $19,000. We have over $28,000 in our savings account, that’s not counting the deposit we made yesterday from last weeks receipts! So we have plenty!”

Butch doesn’t respond.  She can tell from his lack of response that indeed the savings account is empty. Agnes is getting alarmed. Butch knows she knows and therefore says matter-of-factly as he takes a deep swig, “I had to use it, something came up. Agnes flares, “What the fuck came up? Butch has taken pussy face about as much as he can stand, especially in light of the stress of the day and finally lashes out, “Hey, listen, this isn’t your Carnival, It’s mine. You seem to forget that. You’re just along for the ride. You’re just a fucking whore whose eating from my table. I’m carrying you and that bastard kid of yours. And you give me shit about my money. Fuck you!”

That hurts Agnes to heart. She is inflamed. She screams, “Fuck you. You fucking,cock sucking idiot.” Butch is taken aback. She starts randomly grabbing things and begins to throw them at him. “What do you mean! I’m the free loader!?” She laughs hysterically and accusingly . “The only reason this Carnival is still going period is because of me, you stupid drunk bastard. You haven’t got the brains or balls to shit with!” She becomes even more vicious. Butch literally runs for cover. Even so he gets hit by flying objects. He looks like a scolded dog scampering for a hiding place. “Shit, woman!” Butch yelps. She shouts obscenities at him as He ducks out of the door.

The fellow Carnies, whose interest had been perked after hearing the commotion, stare in amusement at the escapade as he escapes.  Agnes slams the door. Butch grumbles as he storms off into the darkness.  Seeing the gawking observers he snaps, “What are you looking at, get back to work… all of you.” They ignore him, giggling quietly and talking in hushed whispers as they watch him race away. Though they respect his power as king of the Carnival beasts, they also know that he’s no threat when he’s being chased by an angry lioness either.

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